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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Josef Albers

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Josef Albers: Mar.19,1888-Mar.25,1976...Germany/United States

"I do not consider self-expression as important. It's not important as a method of teaching. And it's not important as an aim of any art branch."

~Josef Albers

Josef Albers was one of the major artists in the development of Geometric Abstraction and was a gifted mind that revolutionized many facets of the art world. “And I started with this: I have not painted at all my childhood. In fact, I never painted. But I helped my father who was a house painter and decorative painter. He made stage sets, he made glass paintings, he made everything.” Albers began his path toward his greatness intending to become an art teacher, which he did. After attending a teacher prep school, he went to a teachers' training school in Büren, Germany, where he received a teaching license. He taught art at a public school for five years before continuing to learn at the Royal Art School. “I was at the Royal Art School. That was a preparatory school specially for art teachers. You see, it was not so much for the development of artists. But we had there terribly stiff training.” He then became a fully certified art teacher in 1915. It was when he became a teacher that he finally thought he made it as a real artist. He was a great teacher and had high expectations for his students: “If you don't do it my way, I suggest you commit suicide.” When not teaching, he continued to take classes at the Royal Bavarian Art Academy under Franz von Stuck and Max Doerner. “I went to the Academy and studied with Stuck who was then a big man. But didn't interest me. I didn't know that before me there was Kandinsky and Klee who had also studied with Stuck. He had a good name at that time.” Later he would become a student at the famed Bauhaus, being taught by Johannes Itten, focusing his creative attentions toward stained glass designs and production. When Itten left the Bauhaus in 1923, Albers was hired to take over some of his teaching assignments. Two years later he was hired as a full fledged Bauhaus Master. He was not only becoming known for his glass works, but also his furniture designs. He moved up to assistant director of Bauhaus in 1930. In August of 1933 the Bauhaus was officially closed after the Nazi authorities (Hitler) bullied them into surrender. Some of his American friends at the Museum of Modern Art arrange a teaching job for him at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He arrives “to open eyes” on November 28, 1933. It was there, in 1934, that he begins to work on some abstract oil paintings.

“Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature.” Perhaps motivated by Theo van Doesburg‘s "De Stijl" art movement, the abstract ideas evolved from simple abstractions to line drawing in 1936 and on to geometric painted abstractions in 1943. It was in 1949 that he would discover a new passion for art exploration. While teaching some classes on color at the Pratt Institute, he began creating some simple line designs. This would become the foundation for his most recognized art series that he would call Homage to Square. The series officially began in 1950. The work had two major factors. The first was the square. He saw this as the unarguable foundation for all artworks. The second was the color. He wanted others to see how colors look on top of each other. In painting, mixing colors is a skill that all painters need to perfect. Albers broke that rule. He rarely mixed colors, often times using colors straight from the tube. The first exhibition of these works was a show called Josef Albers: Homage to the Square. The show was sponsored by the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition began in March of 1964 at the Caracas Venezuela and traveled all over North and South America through January 1967. The research that he collected on color theory, as he worked through this series, was published in his Interaction of Color in 1963. “Repeated experiments with adjacent colors will show that any ground subtracts its own hue from the colors which it carries and therefore influences.” Although he created many other artworks, his work with the Homage to Square series was ongoing until his death. His last design, a mural called Wrestling, was created for an architect and his former student, Harry Seidler, for his Mutual Life Center in Sydney, Australia. Strangely, the man known for drawing all those squares said, “I love very much to draw animals.”

Homage to Square

Josef Albers was first and foremost a teacher. He often told his students, "I'm here to teach you to think- and teach you to see." No matter how much money he made or what honor he earned, he was always excited to pass his knowledge along to his students. “Instead of art I have taught philosophy. Though technique for me is a big word, I never have taught how to paint. All my doing was to make people to see.” After he and his wife became United States citizens in 1939, Josef had the opportunity to branch off and teach on some basis in many schools including Gobers College in Mexico, University of Mexico, Universidad Catòlica, Institute of Technology in Peru, Hochschule für Gestaltung in West Germany, University of Honolulu, Cincinnati Art Academy, Harvard University, and Yale University (to name a few). He was focused on his goals. “I have taught my students not to apply rules or mechanical ways of seeing…I prefer to see with closed eyes.” He went to work, spent time with his wife at home, and went back to work. You could say he was an anti-social person who basically only worked. This work ethic earned his a great reputation as a great artist and one of the greatest art teachers of all time. He even lectured at the International Congress for Art Education, where he gave insights to his philosophy and method of teaching art. Most of what art teachers teach today is largely because of Albers’ model. I guess having fourteen honorary doctorates didn’t hurt his reputation at all. “I'm not a talker. I'm a formulator.”

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063